Half of Afghanistan Taliban leadership arrested in Pakistan
MONITOR EXCLUSIVE: Pakistan officials told the Monitor they have arrested nearly half – 7 of 15 – members of the Afghan Taliban's senior leadership council in recent days, including the Taliban head of military operations in Afghanistan.
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The crackdown may to be related to efforts by some Taliban leaders to explore talks with Western and Afghan authorities independently of Pakistan, the UN official said. Pakistan is widely suspected of backing the Afghan Taliban in a bid to maintain influence in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad has long denied. But Pakistan may also be wary of Taliban attempts to initiate talks without its involvement or sanction.Skip to next paragraph
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“Pakistan wants a seat at the table,” says the UN official, who is familiar with Taliban efforts to initiate talks. “They don’t want the Taliban to act independently.”
“It’s possible that Mullah Baradar and those around him wanted to start thinking about an eventual settlement,” says Mr. Muzjda. Former and current Taliban figures emphasize, however, that such a settlement necessarily involves a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces in the country.
Reports emerged last month that the outgoing head of the UN mission here, Kai Eide, had met commanders associated with the Taliban leadership to explore the possibility of talks. Mr. Eide has declined to comment.
Much about the arrests and Pakistan’s motives remain unclear, but they do reflect Pakistan’s evolving approach to the Afghan Taliban leadership inside its borders.
“A year ago when this [Obama] administration was completing its first Afghanistan review and we asked the Pakistanis about the Afghan Taliban leadership operating from their country, they flatly denied it,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who led President Obama’s initial Afghanistan policy review. “Now not only do they say there are senior Taliban leaders in their country, but they are frankly taking action against them.”
With the arrests of such important senior leaders as Baradar and Mr. Zakir, “we have what are very significant catches,” says Mr. Riedel, now a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “This is going to have a disruptive impact on the Taliban and its activities in Afghanistan.”
US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) chief Robert Mueller met with Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and his Pakistani counterpart, Rehman Malik, Wednesday, Pakistani officials say. The three discussed the possibility of transferring Mr. Baradar and other captured Taliban leaders to Afghanistan.
Mr. Malik told reporters in Islamabad that the captured insurgents would be transferred, but did not give a time frame. "We have to ensure first that these people did not commit any crimes against Pakistan," says an official in the Pakistani Interior Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Washington and Kabul have been pushing to have the insurgents transferred so that they can be interrogated directly, since currently American officials have limited access to the prisoners.